Monday, February 29, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 3

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This is the 4th installment of my comments on a read-through of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. I am still trying to catch up with my posting on this book so hopefully you will see a few more posts on this in March. Previous posts are here, here, and here. Each chapter is long so what you are getting here is a very brief summary of this very important book. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Chapter 3, Athena and Her Owl: The Wisdom of the Greeks, focuses on how Greek philosophy may have impacted Paul and his message and how he responded to it. Wright proposes that “what Paul thought he was doing was offering an essentially Jewish message to the pagan world.” (200) Paul could use the language and conventions of philosophy to reach the philosophers. He could get across the message in a pagan world without compromising the message of the Gospel or his devotion to the Torah.

It is a central part of Israel’s scriptures that the God of Israel intends to summon the nations of the world to worship and serve him. As we shall see, a central feature of Paul’s gospel and theology is the claim that, with the resurrection of the Messiah, the moment for this fresh worldwide summons has arrived. 201

The second part of chapter 3 describes The Shape and Content of First-Century Philosophy. During the 1st century the teachings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were “making a comeback” and Paul was not adverse to picking them up and translating them into a Christian mode. (210) The popular philosophies at the time of Paul were pantheistic Stoicism and deistic Epicureanism. Paul spoke into this world, especially the Stoics,

Saul of Tarsus was born into a world where eight hundred years of Hellenic culture was alive and well, and where, in particular, the philosophies of four centuries earlier were making a considerable come-back. 211

If, when someone says the word ‘god’, we think at once of a distant, detached divinity—as most modern westerners, being implicitly Epicureans or at least Deists, are likely to do—we are unlikely to be able imaginatively to inhabit the world of many in Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus and elsewhere for whom the word ‘god’ might reasonably be expected to denote the divinity which indwelt, through its fiery physical presence, all things, all people, the whole cosmos. 213

After a discussion of the influence of the 4 main Stoics, Seneca, Musonius, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, Wright discusses how Paul saw his mission very similarly to the Stoics; ethics, theology, and a practical understanding of how the world works, but offered a different, personal, relational answer in Christ.

Once one has this knowledge, one is ready for the philosopher’s specific active vocation: to be dispatched like a scout or a spy in a time of war, to search out what is really going on, and then to come back and explain to people that they are mistaken in their perceptions of good and evil, and to point out the truth of the situation whether people want to hear it or not...Paul had a different message, but might well have agreed with the outline of the vocation as Epictetus articulated it. 227

The apparent echoes of Paul only serve to show up the dramatic gulf that stands between the apostle and the emperor. For Paul, as for Judaism, the world is the good creation of the one God, who is both intimately involved with it and utterly different from it. That, in turn, begets a quite different approach to life, to death, and to the sense of what it means to be human. 229

He then moves on to the Stoics and Sceptics who adapted and popularized Stoicism in the Roman world…

When we ask what Paul might have supposed his hearers would be thinking when he spoke or wrote about a being he referred to as theos, about a powerful pneuma through which this ‘god’ might perform new deeds in his people, about the creation and recreation of the cosmos, and many other things besides, we must assume, and we must assume that he assumed, that the default mode for their thinking would be somewhere in the region of the Stoic development of Plato’s thought. 232

Ancient philosophers believed that study was the key to understanding god and his world and were devoted to this as Paul was to what he believed. He incorporated the observations from this study into his worldview but completely oriented everything around his experience with the risen Christ.

Paul believed that he had been given insight into all things, all wisdom, through the divine pneuma, the spirit of the Messiah. This kind of wisdom already made the ‘wisdom of the world’ look like foolishness to him. But precisely because this spirit was the spirit of the one God who had made the whole world—already we glimpse large areas of disagreement to be explored in due course—Paul expected that there might be points of overlap, of congruence. He would indeed regard it as his right and calling to ‘take every thought prisoner and make it obey the Messiah’, but there were plenty of thoughts out there which, he might have judged, would be ready servants if only they were set within the right household. 236

Paul was doing a similar thing to what Jews of his day (the Wisdom of Solomon)  were doing, in showing how the accurate observations of philosophy, when reworked based on the revelation in Torah, complemented the Jewish scriptures. The difference with Paul was that he orienting all of these around the crucified, risen Messiah.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Friday Chapel

Friday 26 Chapel (2)

Friday 26 Chapel (6)We received a special treat for chapel Friday at PIU when Roland and Dorothea Rauchholz joined us. Roland was the first president of Pacific Islands Bible College which became PIU in 2009. He and Dorothea are the first to join us from off island as we celebrate the 25 anniversary of PIU on Guam and the 40th anniversary of the founding of MIBS (which became PIU, PIBC) in 1976. We are thankful that they could join us for chapel. Roland and Dorothea will also join us for the PIU annual fund raising dinner at Friday 26 Chapel (5)Two Lovers Point on March 7th at 6pm and for the PIU Days Celebration, March 11-13. He will be the speaker for the final evening service on the 13th at 7pm. We invite the public to join us for these activities. More to come in a subsequent post.

We also invite the public to join us for our regular 11am chapels on Tuesdays and Fridays. This Friday we enjoyed the guys leading us in some good singing and our speaker Hartmut Scherer, PIU Bible prof and Distance Education Coordinator, preaching on discernment and how to recognize false teachers and their dangers.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Martyrdom of Polycarp Chapel

Polycarp Chapel (3)

Polycarp Chapel (8)The traditional date of the martyrdom of Polycarp is February 23rd 155. So, in chapel on February 23rd 2016, Mike led us in a dramatized version of the story of the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Mike narrated the story and called people out of the audience to play the various characters. So it was not a professionally dramatized version, but I am sure everybody will remember the story. We had a little fun with it, but still I think the point was made about the great sacrifice Christians of the past have made so that we can continue following Jesus today. Also, it was good for everyone to remember that times and situations were not always so good and prosperous for the church as we have it here and now.

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Students and staff played the various parts. We have a Roman official (left) a previous martyr (center), and Polycarp receiving a vision from the Lord. (Right)

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Roman officers (left) come to arrest Polycarp and other Roman officials receive their instructions (by teleprompter) for what to do next. (right)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading in Joshua This Week #1 (Chapters 1-11)

JoshuaThis week we begin reading through the book of Joshua accompanied by the commentary, Joshua, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Ziese. Joshua describes the successful conquering of the land of Canaan by the 2nd generation of the redeemed slaves of Israel, and then the beginning of the process (which would take at least 200 hundred years) of settling into the land. We will look at the first half of the book here and the 2nd half in a subsequent post. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Joshua continues the story of his succession from Moses and moves the story of Israel into the conquest of Canaan. Joshua is given a fresh revelation of the command to inherit the promised land and drive out the Canaanites. The key is that they stay "strong and courageous" to trust God's promises despite the circumstances. The war begins with the odd story of Joshua sending the two spies. Rahab, the harlot, is the first Canaanite encountered and she responds with faith (the deal is based on Hesed) and is saved and included in the nation of Israel with the sign of a red ribbon. This closely parallels the story of another Canaanite prostitute, Tamar. It is interesting that both major battle sections in this book begin with the enemy joining Israel instead of being destroyed. 

The question that must be freshly answered by each generation is this: is he a promise-keeper? Contemplating this question reveals that the zone between Yahweh’s intentions and life’s circumstances is hardly a no-man’s land. It is every-man’s land. Experience reveals that a loss of faith—or put more darkly, the triumph of despair—begins whenever promise is overwhelmed by circumstance. 69

If the Tamar story makes Rahab’s move from the outside to the inside of Yahweh’s people plausible, the Passover account of Exodus 12 demonstrates it completely...Rahab is about to experience a “passover” and “exodus” of her own, albeit of a backdoor variety, or—better put—a back window-hole variety! For Rahab, it is not an entrance with doorposts and lintels striped in red, but a tiny gap in a defensive wall. Language permits the possibility that this mark may consist of red paint splashed about the window-hole on the mud brick. Joshua 2.8-14, 95–96

Israel faced a formidable boundary to come into the land - the Jordan River. Chapters 3-4 tell the story of the crossing in a way that highlights God's presence providing a miraculous "dry ground" crossing just like the exit from Egypt through the Yam Suph. The ark, carried by the priests, leads the nation into battle and, when they enter the chaotic waters, they are defeated and the people cross over. In chapter 4 they memorialize the crossing with two stone monuments in Gilgal. Joshua is shown to be the "new Moses," through whom God will do miracle to give his obedient people the land.

In the case of Joshua, Yahweh’s instructions have been delivered and responded to in faith. This first great miracle with Joshua as leader has been accomplished. It may be proposed, therefore, that Joshua responds to the crossing-over event with an act of thanksgiving that literarily imitates the pattern and specific vocabulary of Moses...Joshua is just like Moses. Joshua 4.9, 121

The Jordan crossing, under the leadership of Joshua, is presented as a kind of Red Sea crossing, an act accomplished under the leadership of Moses. Both events are a testimony to Yahweh, and a reason for reverence in Canaan...Because the fathers truly experienced it, the children may truly believe it. Joshua will return to this plea again and again. Joshua 4.20-24, 128

Chapter 5 describes the first day in the land and begins the preparations for battle. The Canaanites are demoralized but instead of attacking right away Israel prepares spiritually by circumcising their sons and celebrating Passover. They realize that this battle will not be won with military tactics but by trusting God's promise, obeying His commands and following Him. In a way these acts erase the unfaithfulness of the previous generation and show that this generation is the faithful one that, thus, will enter and enjoy the land.

A contrast of two generations emerges. It is a contrast between those who exit and those who enter, between those who disobey and those who obey, and finally, between those who died landless and those who are about to become landed...circumcision is held up for examination, but oddly enough, so is the conclusion that a physical mark alone can never be the full measure of God’s people. In this, the reader is forced to grapple again with the question of what it really means to be Israel. Joshua 5.4-7, 134

Chapters 6-8 describe the conquest of Jericho and Ai. The story actually begins with the promise and commission of the "Captain of the LORD's army" at the end of chapter 5. The point is made throughout this section that YHWH is leading the army and making the plans. If Israel follows and obeys they will be successful. If not, as in the 1st battle at Ai, they will fail. In this section Israel follows the path of Abraham, now as a nation, and sees the promises made to Abraham fulfilled through the nation right before their eyes. At the end of the section they reaffirm the covenant and review God's instruction. When Israel worships and trusts God and follows his instruction they are successful.

Precious objects are to be rescued from destruction because they are sacred, holy, special. Such exceptional qualities warrant exceptional treatment, and hence a different fate. The narrator’s careful juxtaposition of these objects with Rahab and her clan are emphatically repeated (6:17–19 and 6:24–25) and advance the conclusion that a rescue effort will not only be directed toward certain objects, it will also be directed toward certain people. In this prominent example within the text of Joshua, the reader observes the journey of Rahab as she “crosses over” into the “treasury” or more specifically, into the “household” of Yahweh, a move that disturbs dullish thinking about the boundaries of “Israel.” Joshua 6.16-19, 149

Achan sins and the consequences of that sin ripple throughout all Israel. In fact, thirty-six “innocent” individuals die as a result of Achan’s choice. This example is consistent with a larger reading of the text of the Old Testament that demonstrates how the covenant life of the people of God is critical of any view that elevates the wants of self above the needs of the community. Israel is never called to be self-indulgent, self-protecting, self-accumulating, or self-absorbed. On the other hand, Israel is called to be relational, invested in community, and preoccupied with the lives of one’s neighbors. Joshua 7, 161

It is easy to visualize the ambush team, bivouacking in silence, gazing into the starry sky and recognizing that many centuries earlier—perhaps on a night like this one—Abram breathlessly beheld that same view. Ancient promises are still at work, however cryptic, dormant, or slow. What is new and different now is that for the bivouac team these promises are being fulfilled, in part, by their own hands! Joshua 8.10-13, 178

The point grows ever clearer: gender, age, and even ethnicity do not disqualify one from the congregation. That which binds “Israel” together is the recognition of Yahweh’s presence, symbolized by the Ark-box, at the center of life and a mutual commitment to obey Torah. Joshua 8.34-35, 189

Chapters 9-12 describe the campaign to break the back of Canaanite resistance and prepare for settlement of the land. As the Central-Southern coalition of kings begins to form, one of the prominent cities decides to throw their allegiance to Israel. It is interesting that the two major campaigns in Joshua begin with the stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites. Both use clever maneuvering to get themselves into the place of blessing with Israel and are viewed favorably in the end by God. In the case of the Gibeonites, herem is changed to mean dedication to God and his "house" rather than extermination. The rest of the section focuses on the truth, patterned after Moses' speech in Deuteronomy 7, that YHWH is doing the fighting for Israel. All they have to do is follow. "Just as Yahweh delivers in his promise of victory, Joshua delivers by destroying both the captives and the chariot technology. Faith triumphs over metal and muscle." (239) At the end, the military power of Canaan is defeated and the land is ready for the hard work of each tribe to settle it.

That Israel would plunge blindly ahead, independent, out of range, yet cocksure, resonates with the ego of the human spirit. Still, that same spirit intuitively knows that the formula has never been: “God’s people lead—Yahweh follows”; it is the other way around. This message must be repeated again and again whenever theology becomes packaged and self-serving, ministry operates from too much strength, or God’s people become too cozy with a triumphalist culture.  Joshua 9.14-15, 198

It is Yahweh the warrior who not just initiates a panic, but pursues, smites, and hurls. As presented, Israel may give legs to the battle, but it is their God who does the real work that brings about a victory. Joshua 10, 217–218

Yahweh continues to fight for Israel. To remember this fact in the face of conflict, however, is no easy task. This is especially true when power presents itself with all the trappings of metal and muscle. Because such displays are so visibly overpowering, the temptation is to regard them as not just irresistible, but desirable as the only true forms of power. Anything else is either so inferior or so distant as to be unhelpful. Joshua 11 237–238

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

One of the urgent environmental issues on Guam is the spread of the non-indigenous coconut rhinoceros beetle throughout the island. In the last few years, when you look around it seems that they have invaded the entire island with coconut trees wasting away. You can read a description of the beetle and little more about it here.

Oryctes rhinoceros (L.), the coconut rhinoceros beetle, is a pest species occurring throughout many tropical regions of the world. Adults can cause extensive damage to economically important wild and plantation palms.

Palm damaged by Oryctes rhinoceros

Figure 1. Palm damaged by Oryctes rhinoceros. Photograph by Mark Benavente.

Oryctes rhinoceros is one of the most damaging insects to palms in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Adults eat the leaves and burrow into the crown, stunting plant development (Giblin-Davis 2001).

DSC08008 (1280x960)DSC08012 (1280x960)Over the last few years we have seen rhino beetles everywhere in our neighborhood. Often we find several in our carport. We have noticed that the trees in our neighborhood are affected, especially the tree in our front yard. Joyce hired a couple students to take the tree out and they found it to be full of rhino beetle grubs. We killed the ones we found but I am guessing that we would find much the same thing in most of the trees around our house that are still standing.

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Perhaps including the grubs in our diet would solve the problem? (They didn’t really eat them!)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Week 6 of the Spring Semester at PIU #2

1st Vball game (6)

We continued a very busy week at PIU with chapel on Friday and our first volleyball game on Saturday morning. The week ended with a faculty prayer and potluck meeting on Sunday night – a good way to end the week and get ready for the next one.


Our Friday speaker for chapel was Kevin Elwell, pastor at Bayview Baptist. Kevin worked with me back in the late ‘90’s as the youth pastor at Yigo Baptist and has had a tremendous influence here on Guam.


Kevin is a very animated speaker and the students enjoyed his talk on a biblical view of sexuality from Song of Songs. Especially memorable was his exhortation, “Don’t enter the on ramp unless you are ready to get on the freeway.” I think they all got that one.

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The PIU team gained the victory over the St Paul’s High School team in our first church coed volleyball league game. The fans were enthusiastic and enjoyed a well-played game.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Week 6 of the Spring Semester at PIU

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We are already to the 6th week of the semester and it has been a busy one. This week was no exception. Here are a few pictures from the 1st part of the week. The 2nd half of the week will come when I figure out how to download pictures from my new phone!

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Mike was the speaker for Tuesday chapel. The guys in the dorm led the music. Mike preached on Joshua 9-10. He followed my message on Joshua 7-8 from a couple weeks ago. I have been thinking about the book of Joshua quite a bit. Several quotes on my Facebook page about it and a blog post coming soon.

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Left- Planning for PIU days has begun. Team Neos had their first planning meeting on Tuesday after chapel. Right - Wednesday night we had our small group fellowship at our house. For some reason none of the men showed up, so we had a girls’ night. (See at the top of the post) Joyce and the ladies made whipped cream frosting for the cake and then we ate hot links, rice and cake, and played Charades. It was fun, and a little bit crazy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 2

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Back in a September post I announced that my New Testament reading for this school year would be Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. My plan was to post on my blog with every chapter completed. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page 3 times a week, on Mon-Wed-Fri, but have not produced the promised  “once a week or so I will sum up my thoughts about it on this blog.”  I did post chapter 1 here, but I am still trying to catch up.  Each chapter is long so what you are getting here is a very brief summary of this very important book. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Wright continues to look at Paul’s worldview through his writings and through the information we have of the cultures within which he lived. He lived within three worlds: the Jewish (religion), Greek (philosophy) and Roman (politics), and all influenced him. His goal for the whole section (of which this chapter is part) is…

We are seeking to understand the complexities of Paul’s world so that we can get as clear a view as possible of what he meant, what he hoped his hearers might understand, and what they might in fact have understood, when he wrote his famous but endlessly tantalizing letters. This means offering a historical account of how his mind, and the minds of his potential hearers, seem to have worked.  79

This chapter begins the section by focusing on Paul’s religious world of Judaism and beings with the 1st century Pharisees. they were devoted to Torah and were mainly concerned with how a Jew could maintain pure devotion to Torah in a pagan world. They hoped their faithfulness to Torah would prompt God’s faithfulness to bring in the promised Kingdom.

Torah is a symbol which by its very nature is about praxis. Torah, the greatest of all the divine gifts for a Jew, was not about grand religious abstractions but about precise patterns of behaviour. 91

The distinctive “praxis” of the Pharisee was strict implementation of the Torah. The “worldview symbol” of the Jews was the Temple. Torah became symbol as the Jews carried it out in society with its distinctive practices and ceremonies, especially Sabbath. The temple was the focal point of Jewish life.

The point of the Temple is that it was where heaven and earth met. It was the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had long ago promised to put his name, to make his glory present. The Temple, and before it the wilderness tabernacle, were thus heirs, within the biblical narrative, to moments like Jacob’s vision, the discovery that a particular spot on earth could intersect with, and be the gateway into, heaven itself. 96

The Temple was a microcosm of the whole creation. We have enough descriptions of the Temple to know that it was quite deliberately constructed so as to reflect the whole creation, the stars in the heavens on the one hand and the multiplicity of beautiful vegetation on the other...The throne of cherubs on which YHWH’s presence was supposed to rest was designed to indicate his rule as divine king, Lord of the whole world, with cherubim and seraphim expressing the awesome power of his presence. 101

New Temple, new king, new creation: that is the combined promise of the exilic prophets. Israel’s God will return to his Temple at last, the Temple which the coming king will build. Then, and only then, will the new Genesis come about. 104–105

The next section deals with the Jews’ basic beliefs as seen in the worldview stories and questions. This, of course, is contained in the scriptures and the commentary on them that was developing in the 1st century. This where we find the great unified story of who the Jews thought themselves to be: “most Jews of Paul’s day perceived themselves, at a deep, worldview level, as living in a story in search of an ending.” (109). They were looking for a person or movement that would rise up to finish the story.

The Bible was not merely a source of types, shadows, allusions, echoes, symbols, examples, role-models and other no doubt important things. It was all those, but it was much, much more. It presented itself as a single, sprawling, complex but essentially coherent narrative, a narrative still in search of an ending. 116

The psalmist knows the story of and promises to Abraham, and sees his own generation as the time when all that will come to fulfilment. He knows the story of and promises to David, and sees his own generation as the time when the true King will emerge and do at last all that had been spoken. He was living within a larger narrative through which alone he could make sense of all the other narratives—gentile oppression, Jewish failure—that caused him so much grief. And that narrative pointed forwards to the coming worldwide victory of the Davidic king. 128

This story is retold in inter-testamental Jewish literature with the hope that God will “raise up the heroes of old” or a movement that would finish the story and fulfill the OT promises. Several movements, people, and communities made the claim to be that eschatological deliverer. This continued even after the temple was destroyed in 70AD. 

In more or less all cases the story (of Israel) being told is a story in which the writer believes that he and his readers are still participants...Examples and warnings abound in these retellings, but they are not free-floating moral lessons detached from the historical narrative. 136

The story is, again and again, a shocking and confused crashing down into the darkness. But that does not mean that the original covenants were invalid. It merely means that Israel must now determine to obey the law, and to cast itself upon the mercy of the God who might just find it in his heart to forgive. And to restore. And perhaps to send a deliverer. And perhaps, even, to exalt Israel over the nations. Thus, and only thus, can the original divine promises be fulfilled. 137

God is faithful; creation is faithful; and one day that faithfulness will be worked out through the fulfilment of the long history of Abraham’s people, of David’s descendants, and of those who in the present are faithful in terrible times. That faithfulness will result, for the author of the Psalms of Solomon, in God sending a Messiah who would embody that faithfulness and fulfil at last the ancient dream of Psalm 2, bringing the nations of the world to see the glory of the lord and to live under his rule. This, I suggest, was at the heart of the worldview of many first-century Jews, and particularly of a first-century Pharisee. 138–139

Wright is famous for referring to the 2nd Temple Period as a “continuing exile” without king and living under foreign powers. Thus, they were looking for God’s predicted Deuteronomic restoration explained Daniel 9. Jewish literature was engaged in a similar kind of speculation as we see today on the timing of the restoration.

A great many second-Temple Jews interpreted that part of the continuing narrative in which they were living in terms of the so-called Deuteronomic scheme of sin-exile—restoration, with themselves still somewhere in the middle stage, that of ‘exile’ (which, granted, could itself become quite complicated). 140

(The post-exilic Jews) knew that, despite the geographical ‘return’ in the late sixth century and on to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in the mid-fifth century BC, something they still regarded as ‘exile’ was not yet over. And they were reading their own situation, again and again, within the single flow of national narrative which they found in Deuteronomy 27–30. 146

As long as Persia, Egypt, Greece, Syria or Rome are in charge, the ‘exile’ is not really over. And as long as that exile is not over, we are still in Deuteronomy 29, hoping and praying that Daniel’s 490 years will soon be complete, that the Messiah will come at last, and that—in Daniel’s majestic language—Israel’s God will act in accordance with his righteousness, his faithfulness to the covenant. 150

What the Jews, especially the Pharisees, were looking for was a “world transformed, not abolished.” (163) They were not hoping to go to heaven someday, but were looking for a future transformation of this world.

Of course ‘salvation’ matters. What is being said, however, is (a) that salvation doesn’t mean what the western tradition has often taken it to mean (escaping to a disembodied ‘heaven’), (b) that it is in any case not the main topic of most of the texts, and (c) that it is not the main narrative which they are trying to explicate. In the New Testament the rescue of human beings from sin and death, which remains vital throughout, serves a much larger purpose, namely that of God’s restorative justice for the whole creation. 164–165

‘Apocalyptic’ literature, whether in the second-Temple Jewish world or early Christianity, seems to be designed to give its hearers and readers an alternative frame of reference within which to live their lives, an alternative narrative to that which the world’s power-brokers are putting out, an alternative symbolic universe to reshape their imagination and structure their worldview. 175

So, the point of Jewish scripture was to tell a unified story about God and His people. The 1st century Jews saw themselves as part of this story, making it relevant in the present and being part of moving it toward its future.

The Pharisees saw themselves within a larger continuum, developing for their own day the laws which needed to be articulated to make clear, or relevant, what was not obviously clear or relevant in the biblical text, and thus doing for their own time what at least some of the biblical writers themselves had done. They were precisely living within a narrative: a worldview within which the primary legislation had been laid down but within which, in their own day, fresh work was needed.  176

So, the theology of the Pharisees tried to answer the big questions of life based on the biblical story. They were God’s people in exile who did not like the way things were and hoped, by devoting themselves to Torah, they could be part (perhaps by prayer or armed revolution) of bringing back God’s kingdom to the nation. They believed that this was going to happen soon. To live out the Shema, “God is One” they would be devoted to God and Torah. Israel then fulfills its election purpose and becomes the solution to the world’s problems and fulfills the purpose of creation.

First-century Pharisaic monotheism was creational and covenantal monotheism...The Pharisee’s one God was the God who made the world and was thoroughly engaged with it without being identified with it. The world was not just ‘good’, as though in a kind of concession, but full of his glory, charged with his grandeur, silently telling the story from day to day and night to night...This God was not far away. His presence and power could be known and felt, in and as Torah, Shekinah, Wisdom. His glory and his name were his gifts to his people as they worshipped, prayed, sacrificed, studied and obeyed. 180–181

Jewish monotheism offers, as its basic solution to the problem of evil, belief in election, in the creator’s choice of a people as his own, to serve his larger purposes. Abraham and his family are to become the means of restoring humanity, restoring the garden; hence the promise of the land. 181

Keeping the law so that God would liberate Israel is no more and no less than Deuteronomy 30 had indicated as the means by which exile would be undone at last. The question is: what counts as ‘doing the Torah’? To that, Saul of Tarsus had a thorough set of answers, which Paul the apostle restated in a shockingly and radically revised form. Through the law, he said, I died to the law, so that I might live to God… 188

The purpose of creation, with Adam and Eve told to work in the garden which was the place of the divine presence, was that they should extend that garden out into the rest of the world, taking the divine presence with them. 192

This was so important that the zealous Pharisee might be willing to do violence to keep the purity of the Jewish people to maintain the hope for fulfilling the purpose of Israel.

We know for certain, however, that Saul of Tarsus persecuted the early church and was himself persecuted. We can be sure that neither of these activities were random activities, unrelated to the structure of what Pharisees believed was required by ‘zeal’. This violence was what they were called and authorized by God to do, in defence of Torah and covenant. 194

Wright’s conclusion…

The Pharisaic worldview embraced the whole of reality. It was not simply about ‘religion’, whether in the ancient or the modern senses. It included a ‘wisdom’, an understanding of the world and of its creator, which belonged with what the ancients thought of as ‘philosophy’. It included a community-oriented agenda which belonged with ‘politics’. That is why, if we are to understand Paul the apostle, we must see him within this rich, many-sided world. 196

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

More Stuff We Do on Guam

Grandma's project for the week was to teach the kids to ride a two-wheel bike. It looks like Joyce got more exercise than the three grand kids
Courage's class performs at the Adacao Elementary Talent Show
They put on a big show
Courage was ready to dance
The lights were flashing
The after-show cast picture

The “Love” Chapel

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2016-02-11 17.25.38Last Friday was our annual Valentine’s Day “Love Chapel” at PIU. It always seems to be one of the most popular chapels of the year. At least, we get lots of laughs in it. We take 3 couples: one old (that would be Joyce and I), one middle aged (Kaki and Jele, but then Jele didn’t show up) and one young (Jonathan and Nikki Heimbach), and then they get asked questions about their relationship. These questions range from the profound (What is the main thing you do to keep your relationship strong?) to the hilarious (what was your worst date? To which Joyce and I had several answers) It was a lot of fun again and I think it was also provided some good advice to the students and they got to know a little more about their teachers. Serenity took the pictures for me.

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Kaki shared some great stories about courtship and dating in the Marshall Islands along with some great advice.

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Jonathan and Nikki showed a Valentine’s Day video that he had made for her a few years ago. Joyce and I corrected each other’s stories

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Reading in Deuteronomy This Week #4 (Chapters 29-36)

41I8byk6O9L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_This week we finish reading through the book of Deuteronomy accompanied by the commentary, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary, by Jeffrey H. Tigay. This section completes the covenant section of the book and provides an epilogue that prepares for the events of the book of Joshua. Earlier discussions are posted here, here and here. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Moses begins the final sermon of the book by reminding Israel that God has already shown them that he is capable of blessing and cursing, and that Israel should learn that it is better to follow God and keep His covenant. Moses' then calls every person in Israel to make a covenant commitment to God. This is a very serious commitment which will have devastating consequences if broken. Moses seems to assume that it will be broken because he quickly moves (30) to the possibility of restoration, after exile, if the people will sincerely repent. If, after experiencing all the devastating consequences of rebellion, the people fully commit to return to covenant, God will return to them and reverse the curses back into blessing. God has given Israel what they need to prosper, but they must choose to obey and be blessed.

Humanity’s role is not to speculate on the future but to concern itself with living according to the “revealed things,” the terms of God’s law. Deuteronomy 29.28, 283

This is not an invitation to accept the covenant—that Israel will accept it is a foregone conclusion; indeed, it had already done so earlier at Horeb. Here Moses urges Israel to obey the covenant, for that is the only way, under its terms, to survive. Deuteronomy 30.15, 287

The epilogue of Deuteronomy begins with chapter 31, as God begins to give instruction for the succession of Joshua and the death of Moses. Moses is commanded to write down the teaching he just gave so that it can serve as a future guide to the people, have a public ceremony for God's choosing of Joshua and prepare for his death. In the midst of this God tells Moses to write a prophetic song about how the nation will be unfaithful to God. The purpose of the song (witness) is that the nation, in the future, will see that God kept all his promises but the nation served other impotent gods who were unable to protect them. They would see that God was right all along and would return to faithful worship. This is what happened, for a very short time, when Josiah found the book in the temple many years later.

The writing of the Teaching was part of the process that eventually led to the creation of sacred Scripture—that is, the Bible—which is the heart of Judaism. The public reading of the Teaching is part of the “democratic” character of biblical religion, which addresses its teachings and demands to all its adherents, with few distinctions between priests and laity, and calls for universal education of the citizenry in law and religion. Deuteronomy 31.9-13, 291

In taking Israel for Himself, God granted it a privilege He gave no other nation. This exclusive personal relationship was valued so highly that after the golden calf incident, after God agreed to spare Israel but threatened to end His personal relationship with them, Moses insisted on its continuation, arguing “For how shall it be known that I have gained your favor, I and your people, unless You [and not an angel] go with us, so that we may be distinguished from every people on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 32.9, 303

The poem concludes with a final invocation calling upon the nations to acclaim God’s deliverance of Israel and punishment of the enemy. This invitation implies that God’s salvation of Israel has importance for the world at large. Rashbam explains that this is implicitly an invitation to the nations to revere the Lord as Israel does and a promise that if they do so, He will treat them as He does Israel (when it is meritorious). This explanation brings us back to God’s original purpose in electing Israel: to make it a model nation so that all can see how He treats those who acknowledge Him. Deuteronomy 32.43, 314

Deuteronomy ends with Moses' blessing on the tribes followed by his death and the succession of Joshua. Each tribe is blessed to be prosperous and safe, but the chief blessing is always the presence of God with His people. Moses is eulogized in his death as an incomparable prophet and the one who gave Israel the basis of its revelation from God.

Having blessed the tribes individually, Moses concludes with a coda celebrating the good fortune of Israel as a whole under the protection of God. He declares that Israel enjoys unparalleled welfare because its God is unparalleled. He continues the theme of the exordium, God’s coming to Israel’s aid, and sums up the main themes of the blessings, divine protection and fertile territory. Deuteronomy 33.26-29, 333–334

Deuteronomy concludes with a theme that it has frequently stressed: Israel saw these wonders firsthand (see 4:34; 6:22; and 29:1–2). The Israelites do not have to rely on secondhand reports. They witnessed the events and are certain of the truth they prove: the indisputable authenticity of Moses. Deuteronomy 34.12, 340

Soroptomist Scholarship

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Soroptimist (1)Soroptimist (9)For the 4th year in a row a PIU student has won one of the Soroptomist International of the Marianas scholarships. This year, PIU’s operations director, and 3rd year student, Celia Atoigue won the “Live Your Dream” scholarship. The whole PIU family is very proud of her, and Joyce and I very much enjoyed being part of the banquet celebration. I know the scholarship is a Divine provision for Celia and her family and we rejoice with her. Here a few pictures of the event.

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On the left, Cel poses with the other scholarship winners and, on the right, with her family, PIU family and Speaker of the Guam Legislature, Judy Won Pat.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tuesday Chapel at PIU

Chapel 2_8 (5)Chapel 2_8 (6)Last Tuesday’s chapel featured the residents of the women’s dormitory leading in music and Dr. Jim Sawyer, our Seminary Dean, as the speaker. The girls, as usual, sounded great. Jim spoke on a very important subject that we deal with regularly, “Shame the Swampland of the Soul.” I know it was quite applicable to all of us in the service. Friday will be our much anticipated Valentine’s Day “Love Chapel.” If you are nearby you are wlecome to join us at 11am.


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Well most of us enjoyed chapel; not sure how Trin (left) felt about it